Innovating through technology, business and design

From designing virtual escape rooms to developing apps to creating video productions, Stratford’s graduate students are getting a one-of-a-kind experience

By Olivia Vanderwal Faculty of Arts

Waterloo’s Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business launched its professional graduate program way back in 2011. Today the Master of Digital Experience Innovation (MDEI) is offered entirely online while continuing to deliver a unique, project-based experience combining creativity, technology and business.

Collaborating across fields

Kyle Stacey was looking for an opportunity to advance his career when he heard about the MDEI program through a LinkedIn post. As a full-time Software Developer in Ottawa, he needed something flexible, so the part-time option and online delivery of the program made it a perfect fit. "With each new aspect I discovered about the program, the more I thought this is what I had been looking for after all this time," Stacey says.

Since enrolling, his favourite part of the program has been working with other students. "It’s great interacting with new people with a wide spectrum of educational and professional perspectives and backgrounds," he says, adding that you don’t often find that kind of diversity in many professional sectors. It’s thanks to the flexibility of the online experience, Stacey suspects, that the program draws in a larger variety of students - those from arts, engineering, computer science, business and more. "Working with new people with different skillsets and experience on these projects broadens and enhances the learning experience."

After completing the program, Stacey plans to continue in technology-based industries but with a greater understanding of product development and a managerial edge. "I think the program is broadening my professional skillset," he comments. "The program and graduate degree should help me accelerate my career aspirations."

Pursuing flexible interests

Ismaa Al Aloul, a full-time employee and mom, was also looking for a program with more flexibility. "The [MDEI] seemed like a perfect fit because it offered useful learning that would help me progress in my career while offering a fully virtual part-time option," she says.

Al Aloul works in higher education administration and has no plans to change careers, but she wanted to pursue a program that would add to her profile and skillsets. "I’m not a designer, but after looking at the courses, I realized the program is multidisciplinary," she notes. "[It] can open lots of doors for people or be used to advance in terms of learning and qualifications."

When offering advice to those who might be considering the MDEI, she points out that being a student at a cutting-edge school means exposure to and engagement with the latest technology and ideas. So far in the program, her projects have included creating a boardgame, a phone app prototype, an infographic and a virtual escape room. "I would say every project will push you out of your comfort zone, but in a fruitful way," Al Aloul explains. "If you’re looking for a program that will be interactive and not based on tests and memorization, this is the one."

Developing creative solutions

Nader Meleika has a communications and graphic design background, but he’s always been interested in user experience (UX) and interaction design. While researching programs that would support a career transition, he heard about Stratford’s MDEI from a friend. "The mix of UX, business and marketing stood out compared to other UX-related programs and seemed like it could provide a well-rounded preparation for careers in the field," he says.

One of his favourite parts of the program so far has been the creativity, collaboration and diversity involved in the projects. "Projects are often open-ended enough that you can focus on what interests you and your group, or the types of projects you may like to add to your portfolio," Meleika adds. So far, one of his favourite projects involved designing a prototype for an app that helps users upcycle their belongings with the aid of 3D printers. "To me, this was an interesting opportunity to push myself to engage with complex problems while also developing my skills in user interface design."

Looking ahead, Meleika is excited to pursue a future in user experience design while adding new skills to his toolbelt. "[The program] is a great way to upskill and gain experience creating interesting digital projects, but also in developing your knowledge in team dynamics, project management and business analysis."